Last season, no one divided opinions among Manchester City fans like Claudio Bravo. However, if your memory is longer than a single season you may recall that before his arrival in Manchester the opinion-divider-in-chief at the club was French central defender Eliaquim Mangala.
The Frenchman arrived from FC Porto for a head-turning fee of £41.4 million in 2014 but was sent on loan to Valencia at the beginning of last season by new coach, Pep Guardiola.
He returned to the blue half of Manchester this summer and the revelation that Guardiola is thinking of keeping him this year, as reported by The Guardian, has already sent opinions scampering in all directions.
To be fair, the criticism that he is currently receiving is perhaps unfair, as the physically strong Frenchman has performed solidly throughout the pre-season.
Old habits die hard, however, and the negative opinions are still focused on the two seasons he played for City under Pellegrini, rather than the competent performances he has put in over the summer. Mangala’s contribution to the club during his first two years could best be described as inconsistent.
He had games where he was rock solid and won over some fans and others which were defined by errors in judgement and a lack of concentration. Nonetheless, his pedigree was evident on a number of occasions.
The Manchester Evening News described his performance against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League semi-final of 2016, as “storming”.
Meanwhile, against Chelsea, in April 2016, he had an amazing Premier League showing, in which he successfully contained Chelsea’s prolific striker, Diego Costa. Many City fans still vividly remember how he kept the Spanish international striker “in his back pocket”.
Still, his overall record at City was not enough to inspire confidence at the Etihad and this resulted in his aforementioned loan move to Valencia. It was at the Spanish club that he again proved his worth and justified the fee that City paid to snatch him from Porto.
An article in Marca, from March of this year, claimed Valencia believed the Manchester City player was what the team needed. Indeed, the club felt he had returned to the level he had attained at Porto before his expensive transfer to the Premier League as he played a direct role in Valencia’s improved defensive performances against aerial threats.
Such an assessment is worthy of consideration at City. As a Premier League team, Guardiola’s men are sure to face constant aerial threats throughout the season. Therefore, the more tall and powerful defenders they have, the better.
Players often endure periods of inconsistency in their careers and then go on to shine.
Goalkeeper Wily Caballero had a strong year under Pep Guardiola after being on the fringes during the Pellegrini era, Samir Nasri impressed at Sevilla after his career was seen to be faltering in Manchester and Edin Dzeko was a prolific striker and key player for Roma last year, whereas, at City, he was often seen as an inconsistent back-up player by some critics.
If Mangala has impressed over the past year and shown himself to be reliable and consistent in Manchester City’s pre-season, then perhaps he should be given a chance to prove himself.
Further evidence that he may be of more value to the team than his critics may admit is that he has attracted interest from the likes of Rafa Benitez, according to The Sun, and PSG, as reported by the Mirror, during the transfer window.
Pep Guardiola is famous for improving players and he showed that ability at Manchester City pushing Aguero to improve various aspects of his game, such as his movement and pressing, over the course of last season.
Surely, he can help Mangala, who possesses many good qualities, to improve his performances and achieve the consistency he never had during his previous stint at the club?
Mangala is the kind of player who could thrive under Guardiola because he has shown a strong commitment in the past to self-improvement. He should therefore respond positively to the uncompromising demands of City’s perfectionist coach.
In 2016, the Telegraph quoted Mangala as saying:
“My first motivation is my personal motivation. Then I play for my family and people who support me. And then I want to win. I live to win. That’s my philosophy.
Every time I go to training. Every time I am in the gym and when I am out on the pitch. It’s the same thing. I am ambitious.”
Over the past week, Sky Italia has reported that Inter is interested in acquiring Eliaquim Mangala from Manchester City. It will be interesting to see if, despite suggestions that Pep Guardiola might hold on to the Frenchman, he is allowed to move to Inter.
With City’s defence in need of reinforcement, the club can only afford to let him go if a better player has already been found and is ready to move. If that is not the case, then the club should be very careful about letting him go, because Guardiola desperately needs to shore up a back-line that was problematic last year.
Mangala has shown over the past year at Valencia that he should be reconsidered as a worthy candidate to fill the defensive gap at City. Opinions on the Frenchman will continue to be divided but if his performances continue along their current positive path then any move to another club may eventually prove to be City’s loss.